Jun 06 2012

Oh God, Just Turn It Off: Three Horror Video Games That Scared the Crap Out of Me

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Video Games

I like to be scared. I remember being 8 or 9 and finding Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories That Scared Even Me on my mom’s bookshelf and sneaking off to read it. Of course my mom found it in my room, and I was sure I was little more than dead meat. Surprisingly, she seemed more amused than angry. Then she told me to wait until I got to the story where the narrator speaks directly to the reader, saying he snuck this story into just my copy of the book, he’s watching me read it right now, and I’ll be dead before I reach the end.

“But it’s just words. I’ll know not to get scared, really.”

“I thought the same thing when I started to read it, too. But he’ll convince you. He’ll take all your doubts, all your reasonable arguments, and knock them down. One by one.”

“I’ll find it in the table of contents, and then I’ll know it’s in all the books!”

“Nope. Not in the table of contents, and the author and title aren’t in the index in the back, either. I was sure I was dead.”

“Um…”

“Sleep tight! Don’t let the bedbugs bite!”

And of course I read the rest of the book immediately. That story wasn’t in there. And I’ve researched it several times over the years, even checking out other Alfred Hitchcock short story collections and coming up with nada. I’m 95% sure my mom just made it up.

Hi Ma!

No, no, my mom is a nice lady. But I have never tracked down that story.  Please, please let me know if you have any idea what I’m talking about.

But my mom’s awesome prank genius premise for a story was the birth of my long love affair with horror. Horror fiction, horror movies, and ultimately, horror video games. And horror video games hold an extra special place in my heart. The place where it feels like a fist of ice is holding on to it, keeping it from beating. While books and movies can certainly scare me, I find scary games legitimately terrifying. Obviously it has a lot to do with being an active participant vs. a passive one. And I think that active participation hurts me especially in this regard, since I identify my in-game avatars as most definitively me, whereas I merely picture myself in one of the various roles when I read a scary book or watch a film.

Check out my most recent work as Fran Kranz in The Cabin in the Woods. Who says I can’t be a dude? I know Joss Whedon writes good female characters, but I don’t want to be the virgin or the whore. Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.

So here are 3 video games that made me lose my you-know-what in fear. This is by no means supposed to be a list of the top 3 horror games or anything like that, and I’m going to give you some real talk right now: I didn’t even finish one of these. I was too goddamned scared. Feel free to point and laugh.

Silent Hill 4: The Room

Oh Jesus oh Christ oh god just take me now.

Silent Hill 4 is probably the most straightforward entry on this list, as it’s a fairly typical entry into the survival horror genre. I actually would have never bought this game for myself, since I had already learned long before its release date that it was futile to even pretend I was going to finish any horror game, especially those of Silent Hill’s ilk. But thanks to the boy, this game gained a permanent residence on our game shelf.

The main character is Henry Townsend, a regular everyday normal guy who wakes up one morning to find his apartment door chained and locked from the inside, with no way out. A few days later a portal to another dimension opens up in his bathroom. <insert zinger here> From there on, it’s pretty much all about exploration, logic puzzles, and killing a bunch of creepy stuff.  But what makes this game, and the Silent Hill series (I presume), stand out from the crowd is its skill with creating a truly horrifying and surreal atmosphere. The score is phenomenal and the graphics are gorgeous.

They walk in beauty, like the night.

(Spoiler-ish) There’s also a neat optional twist halfway through the game that can change your heretofore “safe house” into a “really dangerous and unsafe house.” But I won’t ruin it by telling you how it happens. I’ll let you find about that on your own. Sucka. (End Spoilers)

Word on the street is that Silent Hill 2 is one of the greatest horror games of all time, and also up there in terms of general gaming awesomeness. It’s been described to me as 100% as creepy as Silent Hill 4 but 300% more sexual. Like the way the Alien franchise is sexual. I won’t be finding out for myself, but hey, good news for people who love to poop their pants!

Double guns!





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30 responses so far

  • Nick

    You should try the SCP games:

    SCP – Containment Breach
    SCP – 087

  • Schiapu

    And also Nightmare House 2

  • MarkShek

    I only played it once, but the scene at the beginning of the original Silent Hill in the slowly degrading alley still sticks with me to this day. That scene scared the hell out of me.

    Also, every time i had to pass through the rope hallway in Fatal Frame, i nearly wet myself

  • wevs

    Guy here:
    Can’t agree more on The Path. It’s not scary in a way that other horror games are, but the atmosphere of the game goes from gloomy to nightmare mode the second you step off the path. I don’t think one has to necessarily be female to relate, enjoy or get freaked out by the game, but on the other hand I’m pretty in-touch with my inner-chick, so a second opinion would be good.

  • Sara Clemens

    @Nick – Thanks for the rec. I just did some research into those and terrified myself by reading about them. I might check them out in the name of journalism, but I’m already getting the sweats.

    @Schiapu – I’ve totally wanted to check out Nightmare House 2 since I saw the trailer and it ended with “Coming…when it’s done.” I only have HL2EP2 with the orange box for Xbox, though. It seems silly to buy it again with Steam. But the mod possibilities—oh, the mods!

    @Mark – I will be totally fine if I never play another SH game. And you are on point with Fatal Frame. That game could have easily made this list. The rope hallway haunts my dreams.

    @wevs – Thanks for commenting! I’m definitely more on the tomboyish side myself, so sometimes I can misinterpret if references are universal or more specific. Everything’s pretty relatable to me. I’ll have to make the hubs play and see what he says.

  • Mike

    There is a book called “Horrors!: 365 Scary Stories” that has a story similar to the one you described. It says how you didn’t knotice that the book was thicker than the others by a few pages and how the narrator watched you buy the book and how he will kill you by the end of the story. It’s actually a good book. Some of the stories are silly, but others are pretty horrifying. I would suggest buying it. You can find it for pretty cheap.

  • Sara Clemens

    @Mike – Holy sh*t, that sounds like that’s it! I wonder if it’s an older story, since this anthology was published in 1998, and my mom talked about it like she had read it before I was even born. Considering I can get the book for the price of dirt, I’ll totally have to pick it up. Thanks, man!

  • thenottakenname

    I’m going to have to check out The Path. Games that jump and scare are good and all, but it’s the games that really get in your mind and mess with your perception of the real world that are worth it. If somethings going to make me jump at shadows, I’m down.

    There was an old PC game called ObsCure… and for some reason, when I first saw the first creatures in it, I had to pause the game and run away. The game just psyched me up more and more and more until you encounter them. After that it was meh… but for that one moment I was just outta there.

  • thenottakenname

    I guess it was on consoles too haha.

  • Neil B

    Love the scary games! Great article! But can you leave pics of my mom off the internet? Thanks. +1 for the new girl.

  • http://iconscious.co.uk/ mike cupcake

    I’ll have to try The Path again, I didn’t give it enough of a chance first time round. Seem to remember wandering around for a while and meeeting various characters but not the wolf.

    Scratches: Directors Cut and Downfall are two point n click games that have creeped me out recently.

    The Amnesia screenshot I’d have gone with would be an almost completely dark screen that hints at the edge of a huge wine barrel that you’re hiding behind, hoping and praying that whatever made that noise didn’t see which way you ran…

  • Charlie Ward

    The only game that ever scared me was Alan Wake. Then again, I’ve never played any of these games.

  • http://remycarreiro.com/ Remy Carreiro

    I am now looking for The Path on your recommendation.

  • Kaniner

    Eh… Eternal Darkness was fun and I liked it a lot, but I don’t think it was particularly scary. The sanity meter was fun and sometimes surprised you a bit but never really scared me, usually it felt more like a fun gimmick.

    Amnesia should have been on the top of that list. I play a lot of horror games and that game made me scared in a way I never thought a game could scare me.

    The Path does look pretty good, though. I’ll have to check that out.

  • starr

    the scariest game i’ve played has to be the first dead space game. there was a lot of tension walking around the space ship not knowning when somethin would jump out at me. worst was the background noise. i played in the dark, in surround sound, so it was worse. the background noise with the surround sound definately set a spooky mood. i stopped playing because i i couldn’t take it; killing the aliens wasn’t hard. it was the waiting and walking alone with nothing but the clinks and clanks of metal, and sometime hearing voices and the singing! still haven’t finished it, i watched the ending on youtube and that was satisfying enough for me.

  • Habshockeygrl

    The first game that ever scarred me (other than thinking I could hear the half life creature in my dreams) was Clive Barker’s Undying. I know it wasn’t overly popular at the time but I loved it. I also found Condemned great for a little startle you in the dark play.

  • http://snarknotes1.tumblr.com/ Sara Clemens

    @Remy – Do it! Let me know your take on it.

    @Kaniner – You’re right about Amnesia, I’m already planning a “Part Deux” to this article where I can give it the attention it deserves, and also add my two cents about some of these games you guys are recommending (thanks thenottakenname, mike cupcake, Charlie Ward, and starr!).

    @Habshockeygrl – Clive Barker’s Undying was great! I got that as part of triple pack for Macs that include American McGee’s Alice. I really liked Alice, too, though it hasn’t aged that well.

    Speaking of: anyone play Alice: Madness Returns? Any good?

  • banditone

    PC: I remember being spooked playing the original F.E.A.R.

    Console: No love for Bioshock1 & 2? Am I just a big girly man that I was scared as hell playing both 1 & 2 alone in the dark with the surround sound blasting?

  • Lauren

    If you want something else you won’t be able to finish as far as horror video games go I’d recommend Fatal Frame 2 for the PS2. The first one was good. You start off in black and white with the grainy old movie quality (it terrifies you). The first is especially terrifying when you realize that it’s based on actual Japanese ritual and mythology. Somewhere, at some time, people believed this was the way to be.

    The second outdoes the first by a mile. You play twins transported to the “Lost Village” and you have to find a way out. I never managed to beat it. I made my boyfriend do it for me but there were times I screamed in that one even as a passive observer (and I never scream in anything.)

  • Steve

    Sara,

    You are probably the best addition to the site; this article was a pleasure.

    I loved all three of these games, and the funny thing is the only one I “finished” was The Path… I have a bad habit of not finishing games.

    I have three little girls, so that may have opened things up for me more with regards to being sympathetic to what was going on in the game… The encounter with The Woodsman, for instance, left me feeling ill and angry. Hell, the “James Dean Werewolf” (our nickname for the wolf near the run down playground) left similar feelings…

    It really hits that “art” feel by evoking emotions without having to shove them in your face.

  • http://snarknotes1.tumblr.com/ Sara Clemens

    @banditone – I totally hear you on Bioshock. I was freaked out start to finish. I’m not sure it’s construed as a horror game, though, which is the reason I didn’t consider it for the article. You’re not the first to recommend F.E.A.R. to me; I’ve heard some really good things. I remember when it came out and I totally ignored it because I thought the name was stupid. Which probably means I’m a jerk, ha!

    @Lauren – I played the first Fatal Frame and it was certainly successful at being ridiculously horrific. Can’t wait to try not to cry while playing the second. I get being scared even as a passive observer. I have gotten utterly terrified while watching my husband play Silent Hill 4. PS everyone, that’s the one I didn’t finish.

    @Steve – Thank you, it’s a pleasure having commenters like you! Thanks also for your thoughts on The Path. I bet being the parent to daughters brings about a whole other level of horror. And I absolutely agree with you about its artistic merit; it’s almost more of an experience than a game. In a great way.

  • thenottakenname

    @Sara – Alice: Madness Returns is a half decent game, fun if you love surreal and dark scenery, as well as all the wild characters. However, it’s not a scary game, if that’s what you’re asking.

  • Sara Clemens

    @thenottakenname – I knew it probably wasn’t scary, since the first one wasn’t, but I really dug Alice and the sequel is going for cheap these days, so I’ve been thinking about giving it a go. Thanks for your input; it sounds much like the first, which is right up my alley.

  • Charlene

    Eternal Darkness sounds like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth with the insanity thing only there is no HUD. You have to pay attention to your heart beat/breathing, splint broken legs, and the character will commit suicide if too unsettled.

    My friend had it and I was too scared to actually play but loved watching

  • thenottakenname

    @Sara – If you liked the first one, then you’ll definitely like this one. Everything has been improved upon greatly, while playing out similar to the first.

  • http://snarknotes1.tumblr.com Sara Clemens

    @Charlene – That sounds awesome! What an example of the internet’s greatness – my must-play list just doubled thanks to you guys.

    @thenottakenname – Thanks for your two cents, I’ll definitely pick it up. Always glad to get recs from real people. Reviews can only get you so far.

  • http://iconscious.co.uk/ mike cupcake

    I’ll add a second vote to checking out SCP 087, I replayed it last night and it is simple but terrifying. The fiction it’s based on is fantastic too.

    More scary gaming posts – yes please!

  • Gore Motel

    The Path sounds awesome.

    Eternal Darkness was also just outstanding. I thought the Sanity meter was great, added a whole new layer to the game, plus, I intentionally made myself go insane sometimes just to see what the game would do.

    I would like to throw my hat into the ring for Dead Space and Dead Space 2 (I didn’t finish Dead Space 2, but only because fighting your dead girlfriend at the end is an exercise in cheap, frustrating death.) because they are thick with atmosphere. The game understands jump scares, with loud bangs and industrial noises blending with the actual sounds of monsters that will TOTALLY sneak up behind you, because, hey, you should have been paying attention.

  • Mike

    I once read a book full of short horror stories when I was younger, each having an inevitable twist of some kind by the end. One was in first person and by the end of it the person retelling the story is talking directly to you and getting quite threatening. They then tell you to read the first word of every sentence from the beginning of the story.
    And that’s the end.
    When you read the first word of each sentence as prescribed you discover a message that gave me chills as a young teenager.

    Not quite what your Mum read (made up?) but reminded me of it.

  • gray

    should try “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth”. it’s the kinda game that’s made more frightening because of the controls, and you can’t stop to look at whats chasing you or you’re dead.

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